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Toxic Personalities: Part 1

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Toxic Personalities: Discovering their systems of power & shaping workplaces of respectful engagement

Counterproductive work behaviours can debilitate an organisation’s productivity and seriously harm individual incentive, a new study reveals.

“The day this person left our company is considered an annual holiday!”  This quote from our national research study on toxic personalities echoes the sentiment these individuals have on an organization’s culture and bottom line.

We conducted a research study in the United States that included in-depth interviews and an 82-item online survey of over 400 leaders.  These leaders representing males and females, as well as profit and non-profit organizations, indicated that a whopping 94% have worked or currently work with a toxic person!  Efforts to work with these individuals have generated a long list of anecdotal suggestions, but few practical and effective solutions.  Yet, statistics below reflect the degree in which counterproductive work behaviours can debilitate an organization’s productivity and seriously harm individual incentive, as indicated by these statistics:

  • 25% of “victims” of incivility ceased voluntary efforts.
  • 50% contemplated leaving their jobs; 12% did!
  • 20% reduced their rate of work.
  • 10% deliberately cut back the amount of time they spent at work.

With the costs of recruiting ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 times the person’s annual salary, the financial erosion from the effects of toxic behaviours is significant.  When you factor in the human toll, the costs become exponential, as this quote from our study illustrates: “This toxic person is in the most Sr. HR leadership role in the organization.  He has experienced 80% turnover of his direct reporting team and staff.” The toxic individual is a profit saboteur from two contexts-financial and human.

Here are some of the commonly held myths regarding toxic persons in the workplace that our findings refuted. That is, these common assumptions are false:

  • Don’t mess with their success.
  • Give them feedback.
  • Most people won’t put up with toxic behaviours.
  • HR and other consultants can solve the problem.
  • Fire them to resolve the issue.
  • Toxic persons know exactly what they’re doing.
  • Toxic behavior is a solo act.
  • When hiring, seek a little extra competence over a little more likeability.
  • Leaders see the systemic effects.

 

So what did we find out about toxic behaviors in organizations? I’ll go through those findings in next week’s post.


Dr Mitchell Kusy, a Fulbright Scholar in International Organisation Development and Professor at Antioch University, Doctoral Program in Leadership & Change, was head of leadership development for American Express and director of organisation development at HealthPartners. Author of several business books, including “Toxic Workplace! Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power”, he consults in strategic planning, organisation development, and the design of organisational communities of respectful engagement.

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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